The birds under the stairwell on the first floor of Gelb Science Center are a familiar sight to anyone who spends time in the building. The two Zebra finches and several cockatiels have been with the Biology Department and lived in Gelb for at least four years. Currently, the Science Department is discussing a potential aviary for the birds.
Andrea Bailey, Instructor in Biology and original caretaker of the birds, explained how they came to reside in Gelb. According to Bailey, the Zebra finches were rescued from the National Council of Societies for the Prevention of Cruelty to Animals (NSPCA) and the cockatiels were rehomed into the stairwell.
“We wanted to get more animals in Gelb that were easy to have around [and] that would add to the sense of having life in the Biology Department. It was only supposed to be the Zebra finches. It was these two males that we got from the NSPCA, so we adopted them. But there was someone who got in touch with us that had cockatiels and they were looking to rehome them, and [after] I went and visited with them, I said that we would be willing to take them in after talking with the Department Chair,” said Bailey.
Penelope Tong ’26, a volunteer caretaker of the birds, described her affection for the birds. Having a bird at home, Tong began to visit whenever she could. She learned how to care for the Gelb birds from Melanie Poulin, a Biology Lab Assistant. Now, Tong cleans the cage weekly and feeds the birds daily, bringing them vegetables from Paresky Commons as a treat.
“The first week of school, I started visiting them, and one day, I saw Ms. Poulin taking care of them, and I asked her, because I was interested, ‘Is there any chance I could help take care of them, because I have a bird at home?’ And she said, ‘Yeah, you can come this Friday and I’ll teach you how to take care of them, or what I generally do.’ So I started going in on Friday, and it sort of morphed into this, taking care of them every day,” said Tong.
However, Tong also acknowledged that the birds can be a distraction for students. Nadia Choophungart ’24 shared this sentiment, noting that while the birds brightened up the mood in Gelb, their chirps echo loudly through the building.
“I think sometimes they are quite loud, so if you are trying to study anywhere near the staircase, the sound travels. But they do add liveliness to the atmosphere. I feel like it would be better if they moved it to somewhere on the Biology floor or to somewhere where the noise doesn’t spread as much,” said Choophungart.
Instead of simply relocating the birds, Emily Wu ’25 questioned the use of cages. Although she acknowledged that the birds are alive and well, she considered possible moral objections to caging the animals.
“They’re loud, they’re there every morning, and they’re chatty, which means they’re lively and well. Even if it adds to the atmosphere, I kind of feel like locking an animal up is probably not really morally correct because birds belong in the wild, but also I’m not in the place to condemn or judge or criticize, because I don’t know what it’s used for and what is the context, but I just don’t like seeing caged birds,” said Wu.
Bailey explained that beyond their upbeat energy, the birds also have a more practical purpose in the Biology Department, since students can use them as case studies. However, Bailey also acknowledged that the Science Department could improve the birds’ living situation. Discussing plans that have been in progress since 2019, Bailey hopes to expand the bird cage into an aviary after past plans were halted due to the Covid-19 pandemic.
“We would like to have them in an even better set-up than we currently do. I think they really like having students coming around and interacting with them… The long-term plan was to actually put an aviary right there and I put in an Abbot grant for that. Then [Covid-19] happened and all of those plans kind of went out the window. That’s something I want to get back onto again, to potentially have a cage that’s there that all the birds can live in,” said Bailey.
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